Sunday, May 31, 2020

Makuru: Winter in South West (Australia)

It has been wet and cold (in relative terms!) for us this week. The garden is refreshed and the water tank a third full again. Hopefully we can get more rain to fill it up again before winter is over. 

We have been experimenting with the use of the new "Hay Box"  (above) that DH made for me.  
Since my last post, DH painted the Hay box and it has found a permanent place in my laundry. 

 It is great for proofing my sourdough overnight. Last winter I used to wrap the bowl in a blanket on the kitchen bench, or heat the oven very slightly and put the bread in there. With the Hay Box I just put the bread dough in an oiled saucepan and tuck it in to the Hay Box. The method of making sourdough to this stage does not, of course, have any heat, so as I have a microwaveable stone pad, I heat it slightly in the microwave for 1 minute on medium, then put that underneath the dough in the saucepan. The last step is to tuck a cushion I made from a leftover curtain, stuffed with more leftover Earthwool insulation on top before I add the lid. The couple of times I have used the Hay Box the bread has risen beautifully by morning. 

The first of our pumpkins was harvested. I weighed it as 6 kilos! If you have bought pumpkin from a supermarket (or bought it in a can, as apparently happens in some places) you have really never experienced the wonder that fresh pumpkin can offer, cut on your kitchen bench with the fragrant perfume of ripe orange flesh which is dripping with juicy goodness. It is of course pumpkin season, so pumpkin is only $3 a kilo at the moment, but still, that one is worth $18 and all I did was let it run rampant under the citrus in the back yard. There are 5 more out there! 

With 6 kilos to manage, I had to get busy in processing it. I roasted some and it went into the pumpkin soup, which I started on the stove and heated to boiling and put it in the Hay Box for about 7 hours. When we got it out for dinner the internal contents were +60C which is fine. I blended the soup and heated it a bit on the stove before serving, adding a squeeze of lemon to take the edge off the sweetness. 

Some of the pumpkin was just steamed in the microwave and frozen for later use. 

My granddaughter (aged 8) came over and we made pumpkin scones, and then the rest of the family came to help us eat them. 

Another use of the Hay Box was that I cooked some jasmine rice in an equal volume of boiling water for 5 minutes and then tucked the pot into the slow cooker for about 90 minutes. When I pulled it out the rice was beautifully cooked by the absorption method with no dried overcooked rice on the bottom. I can see me thinking twice about the electric rice cooker -maybe it could go, and this would become the favourite method around here from now on. 

If you are interested in Hay Box cooking, you might find this link helpful - about Hay Boxes and temperatures here 

This weekend is a Long Weekend in our state, for the "WA Day" holiday. It is also National Reconciliation Week. "We strive towards a more just, equitable nation by championing unity and mutual respect as we come together and connect with one another. On this journey, Australians are all In This Together; every one of us has a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures".

I have been reading Layla Saad's book "Me and White Supremacy". It is a difficult and thoughtful work. We have much to do here in Western Australia to overcome our terrible history of oppression and marginalization and dispossession of the Indigenous people of this land.  Watching the USA in terrible conflict over race relations is scary and sobering. 

I was much saddened by the terrible news about the destruction of a 43,000 year old site of Aboriginal culture THIS WEEK by RioTinto, who blew it up to extend a mine, and did so 'legally'. Sure, they got around to apologising, but there is no way to compensate the traditional owners, let alone all of us, for the loss of this site of world significance. 

I leave you with this thought. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

We are as busy as!

DGS2 had a sleep-over at Nanna and Pa's place this week. No parents, no older siblings. He was always busy!

He sat at the piano, playing lightly on the keys and singing to himself.
He spent most of his time in the garden, watering the plants, playing on the balance bike, chalk drawing and watching the garbage trucks pick up the rubbish in the street (awe-inspiring!).

We were delighted with how he managed this 24 hours with us, and we missed him when he was gone!

DH has been busy too! He completed a project he has been working on to improve the storage of DS and DDIL's kitchen. They had bought a second hand pine cupboard. DH sanded it back, strengthened all the load bearing surfaces -eg adding a support under the bottom floor in case they were going to store heavy appliances in it- and finished it with an undercoat and a couple of coats of paint. The handles now match the rest of the kitchen.  DS has a plan to use this as part of an extension to their island kitchen bench, with the addition of more bench top space -that is why the top is left unfinished.

I have been busy - I have continued to work on the garden. There has been more work on the flower bed in the front garden, and of course some regular pruning and feeding and tidying up in the veggie patch. The picture above is the first time I have seen a butcher bird actually drink from the bird bath, though we are regularly visited by magpies and wattle birds. I am hoping a denser planting of shrubs and flowers will bring more birds in to the garden. I know that it doesn't look lush and full yet but hopefully things will grow and be wonderful by spring.

There was a big storm here in Perth yesterday.  Just before it happened I harvested lemons, limes and tangelos in order to lighten the load on the branches and save the fruit. These pictured below are the sixth and seventh boxes of Meyer lemons I have given to the neighbourhood this season, and the third box of limes.

Now I am flash freezing slices of limes and zesting and juicing lemons for our household. Maybe DH will make spiced tangelo marmalade later?

DH made me a 'hay box" for slow cooking and proofing bread overnight. He very proudly used mostly scrap wood he already had in the shed, and lined the box with some leftover earth wool insulation. We were thinking that, seeing that we now have an all electric kitchen, with a storm on the way it might be an idea to have alternatives for energy for cooking if the power went out.

The usual back up I think of under a power blackout is the portable gas bottle barbecue on the patio, but I couldn't imagine that being much use in a 130k wind!

The box is quite deep so I will add a woollen blanket to the box, on top of the saucepan,  after I put my food in it. That will ensure that the food stays safely at a good temperature to continue cooking.

I have just checked my bread -and the rise is great, so the box will get good use during winter at least. The view from inside the house, as the sun comes up, is that everything around here has survived the storm well.

Resources for you: 

When life gives you lemons

Listen to this

Resetting the fashion industry's calendar: 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Autumn tasks

This week I have been working my way through some autumn tasks, some of which are concerned with using up our citrus harvest. The mandarins are all gone now. It turns out that when your three grandchildren move close, you have a ready market for all the mandarins you can grow! DGS#2  (2 and a bit years old) delighted in taking a small basket of mandarins home to Mummy when he visited, and Mummy tells me he was capable of eating three of them in an afternoon!

I have now given 4 large boxes of Meyer lemons away to the neighbours through our local Buy Nothing FaceBook page, but I reckon there are at least two more boxes full left on the tree. They have also gone to my DDIL and her mum too. The Meyer, being a sweeter and bright yellow fruit, are a bit of a magnet for fruit fly. The crop comes in a huge wave, over about 4 weeks so it is important to try to get them off the tree before the fruit fly finds them. I freeze affected fruit before disposing of it. We have a rigorous baiting regime and a practice of never leaving fallen fruit on the ground, and as a result we are not getting too many spoiled fruit.

Everyone is amazed to discover the delights of the Meyer lemon: thin skinned, sweeter than the Eureka and very juicy, they are a big hit. I made 4 jars of preserved lemons, one for me and others to give away to friends.  How to preserve lemons here 

The pink grapefruit and the tangelos are a delight to add to our breakfast juice. We feel like we are staying in a posh hotel, with freshly squeezed juice every morning!

I made a tangelo cake for Mother's Day lunch. It is like a whole orange cake but you boil the tangelos and cool them before use. This is the recipe I used.  Instead of the syrup, I warmed up some spiced tangelo marmalade (one of DH's specialities)  and used it as a glaze on top of the cake. It went down a treat with some cream on the side.

There was a special occasion this past week. DH and I celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary! DH decided not to go with the gifts set down in the 'modern calendar of anniversary gifts" which declared that the 44th was the time to give groceries! Instead I got some pretty candle bowls. The Ellenbrook family came over for lunch and DH did a barbecue.

This is a chalk drawing of me, complete with white hair and dragonfly earrings! Drawn by DGD (aged 8), with a bit of help from her little brother.

 I am continuing to make over the front garden around the bird bath. I have been moving irises, cannas, a gardenia and various groundcovers from other parts of the garden, to create a sort of central bed under the fruit trees. These trees are mostly deciduous -apart from the olive- so the bed will get lovely winter and spring sunshine before being protected by the leaves from our hot summer sun. Most of the things I have moved have settled in well. I have a couple of pots of annuals coming up -anemones and calendulas, which I will add in a few weeks, along with some bluebell bulbs. It should look good in about 4 weeks or so. I keep having to remind myself to grow flowers -so much of what I do is about growing food!

The 'Glamis Castle" David Austin rose is doing well at the end of the front garden central bed. It has been here for years. I have plans for moving some other roses away from it to the back -so they can get more sun, and so this one can be less crowded.

I am slowly working on my next quilt, which has a gardening theme too. 

The other things I have been doing include continuing to refine my compost making skills -I am convinced that they are the backbone of the garden- and attempting to improve my skills in growing and saving seed and taking cuttings. This week I have started saving basil seed for next year.

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are all safe and well wherever you are. Leave me a message - I love reading them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Mother Earth

On Mother's Day we often forget that the great Mother of us all, the Earth herself, needs a little care and respect, too.

I hope you are all going well and staying safe. In the slow down that is the result of this pandemic, many of us are finding ways to reconnect with the natural world, even if it is only our houseplants or the street trees we see from our windows.

We had some really marvellous rain last week. It was such a boost to the garden, and as it has been followed by sunshine and warmer temperatures, a lot of my seeds and seedlings are looking happy. This is our planting time, and now I have the garlic coming up I am moving on to broccoli and dill and anemones. I have been feeding the avocado which is still, after all these years, refusing to fruit. I have given it a companion tree to provide extra shade, and it has all sorts of compost and stuff in a deep collar around its trunk -but set back so that it does not get too wet. Oh, I love avocados, but this tree surely is going to have to reward my efforts at some stage or it will lose its place in the garden to something else. 

We were able, for the first time EVER, to enjoy our son, daughter in law and three grandchildren having lunch with us on Mother's  Day. It was mild and sunny and we ate outside. DH made a huge batch of sausage rolls, coleslaw and potato salad. I was given a SHREDDER for my garden, to assist in the big 2020 goal of making better compost. 

We have a local group on FaceBook which endeavours to build community and subvert the capitalist system at the same time by helping us give things to each other free of charge. That was how I got a sturdy bird bath support for the bird bath I had, whose base was crumbling. The magpies and wattle birds love this dish. 

I am scattering flowers around the garden, to keep the bees happy. These marigolds seed readily and when they grow it is often a surprise to see just what colours come up. 

DH tidied the garden shed and found a paper bag with some seeds which were labelled 'hollyhock'. He thinks we collected them about a decade ago, at a holiday house we were renting in Albany. Having seen a helpful online tutorial about checking seed viability, I soaked some paper and distributed about a dozen seeds. After a few days I was surprised to see at least a 50% germination rate -these seeds were not kept in ideal conditions at all -that metal shed gets very hot in summer. Anyway, feeling encouraged, I recycled an egg carton into a seed raising container and look what has happened so far:

Life wants to grow and continue to develop. If we stop getting in it's way it will reward us! 

Finally I leave you with a couple of things to read.

Thanks for reading this blog this far and thanks to all those who leave a comment. I enjoy our connections in this way. 

Reading time!

Deep thoughts about a quiet boycott of an unsustainable system from David Holmgren here 

Enjoy the pictures and the story about an Australian wilderness here 
"One day, the seeds may be reintroduced back into the landscape to flourish again which, for Wood, is a comforting thought. It will be nice if we can leave those who come after us with more than just a glimpse of what the world was in the beginning," he says.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Draught proofing for winter, and compost awareness week

DH was busy this week doing a project on improving the energy efficiency of our house.

His study is also our TV room, and used to be heated with an unflued gas heater, which required two vents to the outside and to the roof space, to protect us from poisonous gas fumes. The problem was, these vents were there all the time, but we used the gas heater only occasionally. On even mild evenings there was a noticeable draught in that room. 

Draughty buildings (energy assessors call them ‘leaky’ buildings, because they leak air) drive up energy bills. In winter they lose warm inside air, and in summer they let the heat creep in, pushing up energy consumption in both extremes. The more airtight your home, the easier it is to stabilise and control the indoor temperature.

We were guided by this website with lots of helpful tips: Green It Yourself 

DH used weather strips to seal cracks around the window in his study. It is a cheap and easy fix.

He also did a cheap, quick fix on those annoying air vents -simply covering them with sticky plastic 'contact' -the stuff we cover school books with! 

The biggest part of the project was to make a DIY 'double glazing' effect on the glass panel in the study door. We have good quality roller blinds on the windows, but the door has been hard to find a solution for. DH had already done this once on the main bathroom's toilet window, which had a permanent vent in it, so he was confident to tackle this one. Here is how he described the process:

"Using the same materials with which you make an aluminium fly-screen for your windows, I made a white frame to cover the whole glass section of the door. Then, instead of flyscreen I used light-weight clear tablecloth plastic to make a tight pane of plastic. Then with mounting tape on the frame I stuck it onto the wooden part of the door frame - thus creating a cavity of air as a barrier to heat-loss through the glass.

"This method is well know among retro-fitters and helps reduce the energy requirements of your house. We have good barrier blinds for the other windows in the room but it is hard to cover a door with a blind".

The weather is settling more into an autumn pattern and the nights are cooler now. We will have a good test of the improvements this week, with cooler daytime and night time temperatures.

How much? 

The whole project for the room was under $100. The plastic tablecloth is about $50 per metre, and he bought half a metre. The aluminium frame was about $25, with the corner brackets which keep it together. There was a flexible strip which holds the plastic in the frame and some double sided sticky mounting tape to hold it to the door. The weather strip for the windows was under $10 for the roll. We already had a bottle of isopropol alcohol to prepare the surfaces for the glue. DH has a well stocked workshop with various tape measures, levels, saws and stuff as required. 

What we hope to achieve

This is part of a continuing project to improve the energy efficiency of our home. It goes with our 'solar pergola" of grapevines on the north side of the house, which are now shedding their protective leaves and letting in winter sun. It goes with our substantial, block out, thermal quality curtains and blinds -we have single pane windows. It goes with our active building management -letting cool breezes in during summer, closing up the house on very hot or very cold days.

We want to see how close we can get to having a comfortable house without air-conditioning. 

We want to save our cash for other things than giving it to energy supply companies! 

We will review the comfort of the room and give ourselves permission to buy a small electric heater if required, after the usual first steps of putting on a jumper (sweater) or wrapping up in a quilt (see here for my quilts) 

In other news! This week is International Compost Awareness Week! Oh, yes we know how to party around here!

It was one of my two goals for this year for the garden -to improve my composting and to save and grow more seeds.

I have been moving to a 4 compost bin system -two in the front yard and two in the back. Each set has one to fill and one to stir. I am working harder at the balance between wet and dry, green and brown material in the bins. 

Finally, a bit of reading for you:

Here is some helpful advice about ventiliation in our homes

The myth about 'safe plastic"